Argentine Torture Trial, Amazon Logging Protests, Private Interests in National Security, Border Militarization, Worker-Run Schools, Ricardo Robles Tribute, Mexico’s Militarization

By  |  12 / January / 2010

This Week in the Americas

Dear Friends,

First of all, thank you for your support—we made our reader fundraising goal!

For those of you who gave to keep the program alive, many thanks, and for those of you who still haven’t, we urge you to do so right away here. It’s easy and it means the difference between continuing to do this work and losing one of the few sources of original, independent information and analysis that looks at what’s happening in our interconnected hemisphere. All forms of payment are welcome.

As the year begins, This Week in the Americas has seen ominous signs that in some places the goals of peace and democracy are receding rather than advancing. The Honduran coup has been cracking down on resistance leaders and organizations in preparation for the inauguration of Pepe Lobo on Jan. 27—a president unrecognized by most of the international community. The coup regime has carried out raids against community radio stations, a farmers’ organization, the gay and lesbian community, and others. Several assassinations have been reported.

In Mexico the hideous daily toll taken by Calderon’s War on Drugs has reached such alarming proportions that citizen groups have begun to demand a thorough evaluation of the strategy and an end to immunity from justice enjoyed by the military. Despite some spectacular busts, the war shows no end in sight. Recent testimony from captured narcos reveals that the links between government officials and druglords form a pillar of the operations, sowing more corruption as cartels seek protection in the face of selective attacks.

In both Mexico and Honduras, U.S. government actions have fueled the downward spiral into violence. U.S. support for the president elected in coup-run elections has emboldened coup leader Roberto Micheletti, who recently refused to step down even for the two weeks prior to the inauguration. Pretending that the conflict is largely resolved gives cover to repressive actions that no longer receive the same international spotlight as before the elections.

This issue of the Updater analyzes some of the serious flaws in U.S. domestic and international security policy. Departing from the recent foiled terrorism attack, Tom Barry points out that under the guise of a visibly faulty "national security" system, former government officials and their companies are making a fortune off failed policies. In Mexico, the drug war is financed and promoted by the U.S. Merida Initiative, or Plan Mexico, despite its catastrophic impact on society.

As always, not all news is bad news. In the electronic pages here you’ll also find some inspiring stories. In Argentina, victims of torture have persisted and finally put their torturers on trial. Also in Argentina, poor neighborhoods and groups of unemployed who took over factories during the economic crisis have gone on to form autonomous high school education programs, guided by their own ideas on education and community. In Brazil, indigenous peoples and fisher-folk have organized to stop illegal logging in the Amazon.

On a sad but inspiring note, we say goodbye to a close friend and collaborator—the Jesuit priest and indigenous rights promoter, Ricardo Robles. He has left his inimitable mark on us and will be missed.

Laura Carlsen


New from the Americas Program

Landmark Human Rights Case in Argentina Puts Torture on Trial
By Marie Trigona

Argentine courts have launched an investigation into crimes committed at the ESMA Navy Mechanics School during the nation’s military dictatorship. The landmark human rights trial is one of the most far-reaching attempts to bring crimes of Latin America’s bloody past to justice.

For more than three decades, survivors and their families awaited the trial that finally began on Dec. 11, 2009. During Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship, the ESMA Navy Mechanics School served as a clandestine detention center, used to torture and disappear thousands of people. Now 17 former ESMA officers face charges of human rights abuses, torture, and murder.

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Local Battles to Save the Brazilian Amazon Pit Residents against Loggers and Government
By Brenda Baletti, Gilson Rego, and Antonio Sena

After over a decade of ignored complaints, failed negotiations with the government, and countless threats against their leaders by loggers and their gunmen, the residents of the Arapiuns region in the Brazilian Amazon launched a public protest over illegal logging on their lands.

Their protest dragged out for more than a month, as state and federal government officials alternately ignored them or responded evasively. Finally, the frustrated protestors decided to send a stronger message. On Nov. 12, after their second meeting with state and federal government officials who again offered no resolution to their problems, they set fire to the barges.

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Not Systemic Failure, But Failed System
By Tom Barry

Obama says "systemic failure." But what’s the system?

Looking at the role of the Chertoff Group in charting the course of homeland security, defense, and intelligence, Barry argues: "It is becoming clear that the merger of sectors and purported synergy between public and private interests have been good for business. But it is also becoming increasingly clear that this corporate-driven system is distorting national security priorities and putting us at risk."

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Border Militarization Continues in 2010
By Kent Patterson

Whether active duty or retired, military men will continue playing a central role in Mexico’s drug war in 2010. In the northern border state of Coahuila, incoming mayors recently ratified the continuation of former military officers to head police departments in the municipalities of Ciudad Acuna, Piedras Negras, Saltillo, Monclova, and Torreon. In 2009, 200 retired military personnel were placed in positions of law enforcement authority at both the state and municipal levels in Coahuila. As the violence increases, some human rights organizations have warned of the consequences of the military’s growing activity outside its bases.

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High School Diploma Programs in Argentina
By Raúl Zibechi

Thirty high school diploma programs are in progress in refurbished factories and neighborhoods where unemployment groups are still in operation. They serve adults that were not able to complete their secondary education, testifying to the fact that the cycle of protest has not ended, although its forms and methods of action have changed.

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Ricardo Robles: The Ethics of Authenticity
By Luis Hernández Navarro

We have often said that our work to someday see a hemisphere of peace, respect for human rights, democracy, and self-determination would not make sense without knowing the human beings behind the movements we work with. Ricardo Robles (Ronco) was a close collaborator and friend. His life as a free-thinking priest among the Raramuri people of the Sierra Tarahumara, and his constant work to promote and defend indigenous rights stands as a testimony to why we do this work and the inspiration we receive from those around us. This article by Luis Hernández Navarro is a fine tribute, but there is no finer tribute than the contributions Ronco made to our lives and our visions of a just and multicultural society.

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Obama’s Role in the Militarization of Mexico: An Interview with Laura Carlsen
By Mike Whitney

In an interview with Mike Whitney, Americas Program Director Laura Carlsen criticizes the growing militarization of Mexico under Calderon’s War on Drugs, supported by the Obama administration under the Merida Initiative. Carlsen asserts, "Militarization is not the way to deal with Mexico’s political crisis."

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